A box turtle in Davie, Fla. (AP Photo)

CAMDEN, N.J. — A Chinese national has been sentenced to 38 months in prison after being convicted on money laundering charges related to a $2 million international turtle smuggling ring.

Kang Juntao, 25, of Hangzhou City, China, had previously pleaded guilty in federal court in New Jersey to “financing a nationwide ring of individuals who smuggled at least 1,500 protected turtles, valued at more than $2,25 million from the U.S. to Hong Kong.

Kang will also pay a $10,000 fine and serve probation after his prison term.

According to prosecutors, “from at least June 12, 2017, to Dec. 3, 2018, Kang recruited a network of poachers, shippers and middlemen to illegally obtain and export turtles. He sent money through U.S. banks, including one in New Jersey, to pay for the turtles and their shipments. He arranged for the turtles to be sold illegally in the Chinese pet market for thousands of dollars each. Kang had never entered the United States, but the U.S. money laundering statute provides jurisdiction when someone outside of the country passes more than $10,000 through the U.S. financial system to promote specified unlawful activities, such as smuggling wildlife.”

Kang was arrested in Malaysia when he traveled to Kuala Lumpur in 2019 and extradited to the U.S. in 2002 to stand trial in New Jersey. The smuggling ring place in several U.S. states, according to the Justice Department.

According to U.S. officials, Kang “trafficked in five turtle species protected by an international treaty including the eastern box turtle, Florida box turtle, Gulf Coast box turtle, spotted turtle and wood turtle The turtles are worth on average between $650 to $2,500 each in Asia and female turtles with rare markings have been sold for as much as $20,000. The smuggling ring entailed Kang sending money via PayPal, credit cards or bank transfers to the U.S. to purchase turtles from sellers advertising on social media or reptile trade websites. These suppliers then shipped the turtles to middlemen across five different states. The middlemen were typically Chinese citizens who entered the country on student visas. Kang paid and instructed these intermediaries to repackage the turtles in boxes with false labels for clandestine shipment to Hong Kong. The turtles were bound with duct tape and placed in socks so as not to alert customs authorities.”

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